My grandfather, John Charles Bishop was licensed victualler at the “Alleyn’s Head” on Park Hall Road for a period shortly before the outbreak of the Great War in August, 1914. He was an amateur photographer: I came across three views of the building whilst preparing a family tree and, although living in the West Midlands, thought that a few words would hold some interest for the Society.
I judge that the house was built in late Victorian times. The curve of the pavement, apparently into Croxted Road, indicates a desirable corner location, chosen to face southward for trade reasons. On Park Hall Road it is flanked by a row of sturdy working-class houses. To my mind it was an attractive establishment, with its façade of five tall arches and flower-bedecked balcony. The latter feature seems unusual as public houses of the period tended to be more functional in design and appearance. In these modern times, when traditional pub culture is slowly disappearing, it is interesting to recall that towns and cities commonly had a pub every one hundred yards. Three-storey pubs were quite common with the smaller rooms of the upper storey assigned to servants and the family children. In looking at Victorian census returns I am often struck by the large number of souls housed under one roof.
I had always thought of the “Alleyn’s Head” as a public house but its principal sign read “Alleyn’s Head Hotel: Worthington’s Pale & Burton Ales”. The property was owned by the Worthington & Co. Brewery, which, as a rival to the Bass & Co. Brewery, was famous for its draught bitter beers. One imagines that it’s public and saloon bars had leaded lights, leather seating, mahogany-topped tables with ornate cast iron bases, etched mirrors and, inevitably... the tang of cigarette and pipe smoke. The curtains at upstairs windows indicate affluence. Open windows, two splendid flags and Union shields suggest a warm summer’s day of national celebration such as the London coronation of King George V on June 22nd., 1911. A prominent feature of the façade is the great glass-sided lantern which hangs over the front entrance and clearly advertises the nature of the premises. Periodically this gas-burning device would have been lowered for cleaning. Town gas was, of course, the pre-eminent source of heat and light in those days. The left-hand archway doubtless leads to a stable yard as horses were still very much in evidence on London streets. Within the yard there is a carriage wheel and a large board carrying the name Gibson Green. All in all, the “Alleyn’s Head”, with its air of confidence and respectability, was a typical well-endowed public house of the period.
As a supplement to the above notes, some remarks on the circumstances of the family itself may be of interest. My grandfather John Charles was born in Bahia, Empire of Brazil, in 1873. His father James Bishop (1838 - 1917) was foreman of the local gasworks. By that time Britain provided industrial plant, know-how and technicians worldwide. By the late 19th. century, James and the family were back in Britain and living comfortably in Ellingfort Road, Hackney. In the early 1900s my grandfather, his eldest son, kept the “Admiral Keppel”, a large Worthington public house at 77 Fulham Road. My father, another John Charles (!), was the eldest of his four children. Business was obviously flourishing, as evidenced by the clothing of his wife Jessie and their offspring. To my mind, the old family photographs illustrate the life style of a prospering licenced victualler of the Edwardian era. Then, probably after 1910, my grandfather and his family moved to the “Alleyn’s Head”. According to family tale, this transition to a salubrious suburb of London owed much to the fact that grandfather’s older sister, Alice was married to Frederick C. Connolly, a director of Worthington’s!
My father, then in his teens, went to Dulwich College for a time. He had happy memories of Dulwich and would tell of cycling to distant Brighton on lightweight bicycles with wooden cane rims. For reasons unknown to me, the Bishop family left the “Alleyn’s Head” and moved to north London. My grandfather died in 1914 a few months before the outbreak of war and the family descended into comparative poverty. In 1937, after thirteen years as driver and instructor with the London General Omnibus Company, my father became a publican in the West Midlands and in time managed four public houses under various breweries (Ind Coope, Twist’s White Horse, Ansell’s, Atkinson).
To return to the “Alleyn’s Head”, nemesis struck in 1944, about a month after the Allied invasion of Normandy. As a result of a counter-espionage ploy, the Germans were persuaded by “turned” agents in England that the V.1 flying bombs were tending to overshoot central London. As a consequence, ranges were shortened and south-east London reaped the whirlwind. Dulwich suffered heavy damage from 42 V.1s and three V.2s. Officially, 93 died. According to records, at 4:26 a.m. on July 5th. 1944 a flying bomb struck the junction of Park Hall Road and Alleyn’s Road. The devastating blast wave from detonation of its charge of 850 kg of Amatol extended outwards for at least 300 - 400 yards. The “Alleyn’s Head”, roughly 100 yards from the point of impact, was totally demolished along with eight houses: forty other houses were badly damaged. Three people died. The site was re-developed and in 2006 occupied by a Majestic Wine Warehouse. A replacement public house was built on the opposite side of Park Hall Road, keeping the name “Alleyn’s Head” alive to this day.